Henrik O. Lunde, A Warrior Dynasty (Casemate, 2020)
Sweden has to have been one of the most unlikely military powers in history. It’s location in the far north hampered its development in both manpower and resources. Nevertheless, throughout the 17th Century, Sweden belonged in the higher echelons of European military powers. In A Warrior Dynasty, Henrik O. Lunde considers the reasons for Sweden’s rise and fall from 1611 to 1721 through the stories of the soldier kings responsible for it.
Lunde immediately dispels the myth of historical Swedish pacifism: that is a relatively modern invention. He then surveys Swedish conflicts before the Kalmar War (1611-1613) and the accession of Gustav Adolf. That warrior king needs no introduction to military history students, but Lunde does his due diligence in following Gustav’s career, including his innovations and reforms that propelled Sweden into becoming a major force in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Indeed, Lunde places Gustav firmly within the Military Revolution of the 17th Century. Lunde takes us into the Thirty Years’ War with a focus on the campaigns of Breitenfeld (1631) and Lutzen (1632) where Gustav was killed characteristically leading a cavalry charge. The Swedes fought on in Europe for another 16 years, but their mantle of leaders of Protestantism passed to the French.
Karl X came to the throne in 1654 and Karl XII in 1697, and it was under those two kings that Sweden fought more significant wars – Karl XI reigned during more peaceful times, but also left his son a powerful army. Karl X was successful for the most part in establishing and defending Sweden’s Baltic Empire, including the spectacular March Across the Belts in 1658 to beat the Danes. Karl XII, however, is considered by Lunde to be Sweden’s greatest Vasa warrior king. When he ascended to the throne, the Danes thought this a good time to attack Sweden. They were wrong. Karl XII took the offensive, as he would do for most of his war-filled reign and crushed them. He turned his attentions to the Russians and battered them at Narva (1700) then the Polish-Lithuanians at Kliszow (1702). It was the turn of the Saxons in 1706. Karl XII attacked Russia in 1707, but after initial successes he lost disastrously at Poltava in 1709, changing the course of European history. After a period of exile with the Ottomans, Karl XII returned to Sweden, only to begin a new war with Norway in 1718 where he was killed by a sniper. Sweden never recovered from his loss. Lunde concludes by summarising his arguments over Sweden’s rise and fall, comparing Karl XII and Gustav, and deducing lessons for modern policy makers.
Although first published in 2014, this paperback edition of A Warrior Dynasty will make it more accessible to a wider readership. That is a good thing because this is a solid survey of Sweden’s most glorious century, militarily speaking. Lunde does a good job of clarifying a sometimes complex era, though he weakens his text at times by discussing his problems with sources and space. That aside, this is an interesting and engaging book that made me want to dig deeper into the warrior kings. Other readers of 17th Century warfare will certainly want this on their shelves.